For the fly-fisher Pennsylvania offers trout fishing opportunities all twelve months of the year.  True, there are times during the winter when conditions can be less than desirable - and that's putting it mildly.  Personally, I made the decision years ago that there are three conditions I'm not willing to tolerate:  high water, air temperature below freezing and stiff wind.  Yeah, I know, some of you know I'll make an exception when it comes to wind.

Living right on the dividing line between central and north central PA puts me in that difficult position of having some good mountain freestone streams as well as the well-known limestoners sufficiently close to home that I can be torn at times as to where I want to fish.  Hey, somebody's got to suffer with having to make these choices so I willingly accept my burden.

An added bonus it that so many streams in my area can be described as insect factories.  A stream with a diverse population of critters can be either a blessing or a curse but I'll take it either way.  I find it interesting that most fly-fishers only think of "hatch-matching" as pertains to fishing emergers or dries to include both duns and spinners for mayflies and adult forms of caddisflies and stoneflies.  While in the past there was a fair amount of interest in nymph patterns that suggested naturals that doesn't seem to be the case today.  Look in most nymph boxes and you'll see what I'm talking about.

I derive a fair bit of satisfaction from tying nymphs to suggest the naturals which inhabit the waters I fish.  And that means I look forward to when certain bugs become active and by this I mean to the point we get to experience their emergence.  Sure, the aquatic forms of the critters we look forward to are down on the stream's substrate clinging to rocks and other debris doing what's necessary to survive and grow.  They're doing everything they need to do to arrive at that point when they're ready for that grand change:  transforming into their terrestrial form.  

While midges can be active during the winter the first larger critter to show is the early little black stonefly, also known as the "snowfly."  Of the family Capniidae, these stoneflies are usually size 18 all the way up to size 14 in fly-fishers' lingo.  Forget those tiny size 22 stones.  We won't concern ourselves with them for now.  The early little black can make it's appearance in early February if weather and water conditions are agreeable to these little critters.  I see the adults along the stream bank crawling on the ice or snow if there's any around.  Obviously, the best indicator that it's time to fish a little black stonefly pattern is when I see them.  No brainer here, for sure.  Oh, and here's a little more info for you:  I've never seen a nymph shuck on a rock along the stream bank.  Seems like they hatch in the stream.

Here's where I'm going to make a profound statement that tends to go against what some of my peers say about fishing in winter.  My experience over the years has taught me that cold water doesn't necessarily mean inactive trout.  On the contrary, I believe that if water temps have been stable for at least 18 hours - and preferably 24 hours - trout become acclimated and resume their "normal" activity.  I've had some great fishing in 35 degree water temps in the past.  Now, if there's been any kind of a drop in water temps in the last several hours that's not a good thing and I'd be better off staying home and tying flies, writing about fishing or whatever.


I'll admit that I'm not going to be seen on a trout stream when the air temp isn't expected to rise to above freezing.  The last straw for me was when I found myself fishing one cold winter day and I went to cast.  Something went terribly wrong and it was then I saw that about 3 feet of my line and leader had frozen straight.  With that and having to break ice out from my guides I don't need that kind of grief.

Here's where you normally read that I fish deep and slow.  Not really any different that how we usually fish nymphs now, is it?  Nope, it's not!  It's true that I don't fish really shallow water.  During the winter and the earliest part of spring trout seem to hold in a bit deeper water.  Here's where you want to be careful not to pass up water that may be a bit slower with just a little more depth.  I refer to these as gouges or cuts.  They can hold fish.  I've found myself half-heartedly fishing some of this water until I hook a fish...and then another, and another.  If it looks even remotely like it may harbor a trout...fish it!

When I fish a little black stone nymph I make it a point to cover the water thoroughly.  This includes repeated drifts through my targeted area.  I need to ensure I've given the trout ample opportunity to take my fly.  It never ceases to amaze me that, after having drifted through a spot many times, all of a sudden a good wild brown decides that it wants my nymph after all.  Why it took so many drifts I'll never know.


It fascinates me that some anglers don't place any importance on fishing a little black stone dry.  I've talked to numerous anglers who say trout don't feed on them.  Obviously, I'm not one of them.  I always have a few in my fly box at this time of year.  I must admit that I really don't expect to see fish taking hatching stones from the surface until later in their emergence and that's usually sometime from mid-March and later.  When they hatch the adults flutter a lot on the surface.  Don't be afraid to impart some action to your fly when you fish dry.  I've had some productive times when trout were taking these adults from the surface.  At the end of the day I don't want to be sulking over missed opportunities.


Have I whetted your appetite to get out early and cover some water with a little black stonefly imitation?  You're the only one to answer that question, obviously.  Here's an FYI for 'ya.  The photos of trout accompanying this piece were all taken on little black stones!

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